Workforce Scheduling Basics: How to Send the Right Engineer for Every Job

Linda Formichelli
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Whenever you have more than one engineer you have a decision to make: Which engineer do you send to which jobs?

Workforce scheduling becomes even more complicated as you grow. You may have a dozen or more engineers, each with different skill sets and certifications, and service calls coming in all day long. So when you have a job that requires certain skills, but the engineer with those skills is across town on another job, what do you do?

We talked with two field service business owners for advice on how to make sure you always dispatch the right engineer for every job.

Bonus: If you're struggling along with a paper-based scheduling system, and aren't quite ready to go digital, we have something for you: A free job status spreadsheet that can help you organise and track your jobs. Download it here.

What's the best way to schedule my engineers?

Here's on how to get the right engineer to the right job—every time.

  1. Define what a successful job is. What's your desired outcome?
  2. Think beyond travel time. How fast an engineer can arrive is important, but it shouldn't be your only consideration.
  3. Track your engineers' skills using a database or service dispatch software.
  4. Consider the soft skills like customer service and sales skills.
  5. Define the job requirements. Age of the equipment and the customer history are factors to consider.
  6. Train your engineers to the same skill level so you have one less data point to juggle.
  7. Have policies in place so all engineers get a fair chance at doing jobs.

Let's go into more detail.

1. Define what a successful job is.

Before you can know which engineer to dispatch for any job, you need to know what your desired outcome is.

Be sure to look beyond the obvious. A job that's done quickly, efficiently, and correctly is the baseline, not the goal. Customers rightly expect that every time. What does it take for your customers to consider a job a success?

Matt Buckwalter, owner of One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, teaches his technicians that for a service call to be successful, it has to result in three wins:

  1. The customer is happy.
  2. The technician is happy.
  3. The business is happy.

Keeping those criteria in mind helps dispatch managers know who to send to each job.

Think beyond travel time.

Speed is important, but not at the expense of a job well done. After all, no matter how fast your engineer gets there, if they're not right for the job the result will be higher recall rates, customer dissatisfaction, and wasted time.

Field service office managers and dispatch managers need to know not only which engineers are near any given job—but also those engineers' skills and weaknesses. I't's not always about being able to get from point A to point B,' says Buckwalter. 'It's about who is that person who is going from point A to point B.'

While you need to create an efficient schedule, it sometimes makes sense to route a technician three miles out of his way to get the right tech to the job based on the situation, the age of that equipment, and the technician's skill set, says Buckwalter—versus getting a technician there more directly who's not as skilled.

So when you're tracking your engineers' journeys, looking over your diary, and trying to decipher who should go where, don't get caught in the trap of simply sending whoever happens to be closest.

Get to know your engineers' skills.

Do you have a good idea of which of your engineers is the best at working with older boilers? Which is better at handling an angry customer? How about which one has the proper training to work with oil-burning appliances?

Take the time now to organise your engineers by skill, so when a job requires that skill you'll know just who to send.

When figuring out your engineers' skills, consider these categories:

  • Certifications/licenses.
  • What brands the engineer has experience in.
  • Customer service skills. (More on this below.)
  • Sales skills.
  • Specialised training.

The more engineers you have, the more difficult it can be to keep track of their skills and strengths. Here are some ways to keep all that information organised.

Create a database.

A simple Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet may be all you need to keep track of your engineers' skills. If you want to get fancy, in Excel you can create drop-down menus where, when you select a skill, the appropriate engineers' names pop up. Here's how to make that happen.

Use service dispatch software.

Some field service management solutions include a workforce scheduling feature that takes all this off your hands: The software automatically sends the engineer who is closest to the job and has the right skills. (Commusoft's upcoming intelligent scheduling feature is one example; register your interest to get an alert when this feature is available!)

Train engineers and dispatchers together.

At One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning, the dispatchers are integrated into the technicians' training so they get to know those technicians' skills and strengths at a personal level. 'The dispatcher knows every single one of those technicians,' says Buckwalter. 'The dispatchers were techs themselves, so they have an understanding, when the call appears, of what skills are needed...and who has them.'

Organising all this info now will help you sail through the busy seasons, when the calls are flying in and you're trying to get the right person to the right job ASAP.

Consider the soft skills.

When it comes to skills, technical ability and certifications are obvious ones. But don't forget the soft skills!

Sometimes the right engineer is the one the customer likes having there. 'When a customer requests a certain technician we offer certain times of day when we can accommodate this request,' says Amber Gaige, Vice President of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing in Dallas, Texas.

Not only that, but you'll want to send the engineer with sales skills to those jobs where it might not be worth it for the customer to pay for a repair. 'Sometimes we present options to the client to help them make the decision that's best for them,' says Buckwalter.  'That's rooted in the technician's ability to communicate, say, that an expensive repair on a 15-year-old furnace may not be the best option.'

Need more help with your engineers' soft skills? Our article on how to turn your engineers into customer service pros gives advice on what soft skills are most important and how to train your engineers in them.

Define the requirements for each job.

You now know which engineers have which skills. The next step is to match those skills to the jobs as calls come in. This information can help you make the perfect match.

Here are some of the things to consider:

  • The location of the job. Remember, though, this is only one of many factors to consider!
  • The age of the equipment or appliance to be repaired. If it's very old think about sending an engineer with good sales skills, who can help the customer decide if a new installation is a better choice.
  • The certifications needed to handle the job.
  • The emergency status of the job. Does it need to be done right away, of can it wait for the best engineer to be available?
  • The customer. Is this a customer who's historically been difficult to work with? Do they need extra hand-holding? Do they like it when an engineer explains the repair or installation process to them?

Much of this information can come from your customer database. If you don't have a customer database, creating one can make workforce scheduling easier.  

Train your engineers to the same skill levels.

If you make sure all your engineers have all the skills needed to do the most common jobs, that's one less thing you have to juggle when trying to decide which engineer to send to which job. ('Which engineer has the technical skills to do this service call? Why, all of them!')

'We used to have maintenance-only technicians and service-only technicians,' says Buckwalter. 'The challenge there is with seasonal demands. In certain seasons, you're going to have far more maintenance calls than you are demand calls.'

So the company made a plan to bring all the technicians to the same level of skill in both service and maintenance. Hands-on training happens in the field, which occasionally leads to problems—like when a maintenance technician discovers a fault in an appliance that they can't fix—but so far it's made workforce scheduling a lot easier.

Give every engineer a fair chance.

Even if your dispatchers know each technician personally, it's key to have guidelines in place to make sure each technician has a fair chance at getting jobs—especially since on-site work is often a way to gain new skills. 'It’s important to train your dispatchers to be objective, with set metrics and protocols to guide their decisions,' explains Gaige. 'You want to avoid any possible semblance of favoritism. All plumbers need equal opportunities for varying job types.'

Keep up on your jobs' status.

Automating your scheduling can help you send the right engineer to the right job. But if you're not ready to invest in field service scheduling software, we created this free Excel job status sheet just for you. Just click the banner below and you'll be a few seconds away from a free, simple tool that works far better than a paper-based system.

Free job status spreadsheet for field service businesses

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If you want to learn more about Commusoft's field service software, please see our product blog.